If you wince at the prices of flower-shop Christmas arrangements, there is an alternative. I have a godmother for whom one of the best moments of winter is going out in the garden to pick ivy and other evergreens to weave into a Christmas wreath for the front door. In the past couple of years, I've caught the bug. And if you're one of those people who thinks Margo Leadbetter-style "doing the flowers" is beyond them, this is a great place to start.
To begin with, dark-green stems and leaves are far more tolerant of amateurish fiddling than flower-shop flowers, which soon look a bit bruised. You can keep reweaving a Christmas wreath until it looks half-decent. You'll need evergreens to give your wreath a properly festive feel, but a quick snoop around the neighbourhood should reveal at least one fence festooned with much too much ivy. Ivy is particularly good in long lengths, so ring on the doorbell and ask – hopefully they'll thank you for doing their pruning for them. Also, consider cutting sprigs from your rosemary bush, asking your neighbours for snips from their holly, or nabbing some fir cones from a local park. If you've got an annoying eucalyptus tree leaning over into your garden, grab some. Even my leggy patio olive tree has been raided for trimmings before. Begin getting your stocks in now, and by the end of the month you should be ready to go.
You also need to stock up on the behind-the-scenes architecture for your wreath: wire, ribbons and a ring of copper wire (for a table centrepiece, you follow the same instructions, but use a circular base of Oasis, that green floral foam). Sarah Raven's mail-order company (www.sarah raven.com) will send you all these individually, or a whole kit for £9.50, much of which can be reused the following year, and which contains helpful instructions too.
Now you just begin adding elements to the structure, wiring each of them in as you go. One Raven tip is to include accents at 3 o'clock, 6 o'clock and 9 o'clock, giving your wreath a satisfying balance. She is a big fan of seedheads sprayed silver and gold, and you can buy cans of paint from her for £9.95 – possibly exciting to older kids who will feel there's a graffiti element to the thing. But for me, it's natural reds such as fresh chilli peppers or rosehips only.
There's one last thing you need to do. On finishing, dissuade any wreath thieves by wiring the structure firmly with a metre or two of wire trailing from the wreath. Now fix a nail to the inside of your front-door, and wire the wreath firmly over the top to the nail on the other side. After all, you want to admire your handiwork the whole of Christmas through. n
Deck the halls: Christmas floral courses
The National Botanic Garden of Wales offers a chance to make Christmas decorations from fresh willow. 12 December, £15, www. gardenofwales.org.uk
Sizergh Castle in Cumbria offers a chance to see how its Victorian Christmas garlands are made, and to try it yourself. 24-25 November, £40 including buffet lunch and leaves etc from the estate. Tel: 01539 560 951, www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Sarah Raven hosts "Christmas Food and Flowers" at her home in Perch Hill, Sussex. The day costs £145; all flowers and fruit are included. Or book one of her Christmas shopping days, where she'll spend 45 minutes showing you decorative ideas for free. 27 November, www.sarahraven.com
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